When it comes to my entertainment preferences, “comics” in all its myriad forms – comic books, comic strips, graphic novels, cartoons, movies, TV shows – are and will always be my first love. Just as my second entertainment love will always be monsters, especially giant monsters. So I may well burst with joy as Marvel Comics devotes one of its huge publishing events to its glorious monsters of the 1960s and beyond.

Monsters Unleashed Prelude [$34.99] is a 264-page collection of 13 of the giant monster stories by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, Jack Kirby, Dick Ayers and Steve Ditko. These are creatures whose names sound like someone spilled letterer Artie Simek’s box of sound effects. Goom! Googam! Orrgo! Moomba! Rommbu! Blip! Groot! Grottu! Vandoom! Backing up these thirteen tales, we have more recent stories from Fearless Defenders, Marvel Zombies, Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur, and Totally Awesome Hulk. Excuse my squeals of delight.

The giant monster stories of the 1960s often featured what I call “outsider heroes.” The scientists who are mocked for their “crazy” theories or slight builds or shyness. The novelist trying to relax with his family. The escaped criminal. Even the ones who fit the traditional heroic image had a realism to their characters that spoke to me. Some of these stories were man versus monsters. Some were morality plays. Some were man versus man with the monsters a bit harder to recognize. I loved them all and, on rereading them so many decades later, find them just as much fun as ever.

Comics history digression. There have been many alternative facts about how these stories were created. The real truth comes from my friend Larry Lieber:

Stan would come up with the basic idea, sometimes in sessions with Larry. Then Larry would write a full script for artist Jack Kirby. Jack, recognized as one of the greatest storytellers in comics, was likely allowed to adjust these scripts for more dramatic visuals. The nutty names were Stan’s, the scripts were Larry’s and, almost certainly, the creature designs were Jack’s.

These giant monster stories appeared in titles like Strange Tales, Tales to Astonish and Tales of Suspense. Many of the earliest ones were six or seven pages in length. Somewhere along the line, they were expanded to twelve or thirteen pages, which allowed Kirby to draw bigger panels and even full-page shots that looked like movie posters. At least they did to me.

The more recent stories in this collection don’t take me back to my youth, but they are fine efforts. They have me eagerly awaiting the full-blown invasion of these classic-to-me monsters into the Marvel Universe. And I’m squealing again.

ISBN 978-1-302-90089-2


I Am Jim Henson

Brad Meltzer and Christopher Eliopoulos’ “Ordinary People Change the World” series of children’s books continues with the release of I am Jim Henson [Dial Books; $14.99] last month. Meltzer is better known as a political thriller and non-fiction writer, but has also written for comic books and created TV shows. Eliopoulos is widely regarded as one of the best cartoonists in comics. If I’m recalling correctly, this is the thirteenth book in the series.

Henson was a born performer and a master of imagination. With his Muppets, he made children and grown-ups alike delight in the world around them, embrace worlds beyond their own, laugh at the comedy of the real and unreal, and learn about themselves, about others, about math and science and so much more. Henson and his characters invited us to explore and feel and grow and love. His contribution to our society is and remains immense.

Meltzer and Eliopoulos use Henson’s life to inspire young readers. In these books, the subjects narrate their stories and are shown as children themselves. This method speaks to the children who enjoy these books and to adults who can embrace that sense of wonder of their youth. I love the series without reservation and recommend each and every one of the books in it.

Birthday hint: The books make great gifts for young children. With subjects including George Washington, Helen Keller, Lucille Ball, Albert Einstein, Rosa Parks and more, you’re sure to find one that will appeal to that birthday boy or girl in your life.

ISBN 978-0-525-42850-3



I’ve been reading a lot of Shigeru Mizuki manga of late. In recent months, I’ve praised his Kitaro comics and his four-volume Showa: A History of Japan. This week, I’m praising NonNonBa [Drawn and Quarterly; $26.95], which was first published in English in 2012. One of the wonderful things about our modern comics world is that brilliant works like this often remain available for years after their initial release, either though booksellers or through public and school libraries.

“NonNonBa” is a contraction for the Japanese words for grandmother and a person who serves Buddha. As seen in Mizuki’s Showa volumes, this woman was family, ally and spirit guide to the young mangaka to be. In this warm and fanciful memoir, autobiography mixed with ghost stories, the focus is on Mizuki and his relationship with his grandmother. She was his guide to the spirit world and his support when life dealt him hard blows. The artist loved her and, once you read this 432-page softcover, you will, too.

Choosing my “pick of the week” this time around wasn’t easy. There is my nostalgic love for the Marvel monsters of the 1960s. There is my continuing admiration for what Meltzer and Eliopoulos are doing with their “Ordinary People Change the World” series. It came down to the sheer artistry of Mizuki in sharing his life and his beloved grandmother with his readers.

NonNonBa is my pick of the week. It earns my highest recommendation and that extends to all of Mizuki’s work. He was truly one of the greatest comics artists of all time.

ISBN 978-1770460720

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2017 Tony Isabella


Fantagraphics Books gets possibly the most-deserved “pick of the week” recognition since I started writing this column for Tales of Wonder. The publisher earns it for The Complete Peanuts: Comics & Stories Volume 26 [$29.99], the culmination of one of the all-time greatest comic-strip reprint projects.

With the launching of Peanuts in 1950, Charles M. Schulz redefined the American comic strip as only a handful of cartoonists have done in the history of that popular art and entertainment form. He and his work were and remain an inspiration to cartoonists all over the world, just as the characters he created – Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Lucy, Linus and the rest – are loved all over the world. That his cartoon legacy has been preserved in 25 beautifully-made hardcover collections is a blessing to comicdom.

“Wait a minute, Tony! You just wrote that Peanuts was collected in 25 volumes, but you’re reviewing a 26th volume. We know math isn’t your strong point, but what the heck?”

Relax, my Peanuts-loving posse. I can explain.

Besides Schulz’s 50-year-run creating the daily and Sunday Peanuts strips, he produced a figurative ton of other drawings and related items for comic books, storybooks, single-panel gags, advertising campaigns, book illustrations and more. This 344-page finale to The Complete Peanuts presents a great deal of that rare material along with historical information to put it into context.

There are gag cartoons from The Saturday Evening Post, seventeen in all, created and sold before Peanuts hit the newspapers. There are seven Peanuts comic-book stories Schulz did in the 1950s and 1960s. His collaborator Jim Sasseville handled most of the art for these Dell comic books.

The book has advertising art and strips, and even a drawing and a recipe Schulz did for the cover of a 1983 cookbook by the Women’s Sports Foundation. He was on the organization’s Board of Trustees.   There are special Christmas stories that appeared in Better Homes and Gardens, Good Housekeeping and Women’s Day. There are Peanuts storybooks, such as Snoopy and the Red Baron.

There are drawings Schulz did about golf and tennis, two passions of his. There are dozens of other spot drawings.

Most moving of all is a remembrance of Schulz written by his wife Jean. “Sparky” brings the great and humble man to life in a manner that made me wish I had met him…and which explains why his work will always be part of me.

This final volume and this entire series should be in every school and public library. I’m deliriously happy that these books are part of my personal library as well. Thank you, Fantagraphics, and, of course, thank you, Charles Schulz.

ISBN 978-1069699-975-8



It amazes me to say this. Until I read Shaft: A Complicated Man by David F. Walker and artist Bilquis Evely [Dynamite; $19.99], I had no experience with this iconic hero. I had never read one of Ernest Tidyman’s seven Shaft novels. I never saw the four Shaft movies, or any of the made-for-TV movies featuring the character. This despite Tidyman being a legend in my native Cleveland before he created the character. This despite my creations of Black Lightning and Misty Knight and my work on other African-American comics heroes like the Falcon and Luke Cage. This despite my long-held interest in adding more diverse characters to comics. Go figure.

Walker and Evely’s six-issue “origin of Shaft,” collected in this trade paperback, has sparked my interest in Tidyman’s famous hero. It shows how his life and his times shaped the man John Shaft would become. It brings those times to life in all their beautiful hope and ugly bigotry while reminding today’s readers that hope remains a precious commodity and bigotry is always just one racist politico away. It’s a solid thriller involving murderous crime bosses, the corrupt politicians in bed with them, their willing accomplices and the innocents caught up in their violence. It’s a well-written tale with guys and solid visuals. I liked it a lot.

The story collected in this volume won the 2015 Glyph Comics Award for Story of the Year. The book also features samples of the story scripts, concept art, variant covers and more. It gives the reader a solid bang for his twenty bucks. It made this reader start trying to figure out he can make time to read all those novels, including a new one by Walker, and watch all those movies. Can we please have an extra month or two this year?

ISBN 978-1-60690-757-3



John Shaft lives in a often-violent world. The Punisher, especially in the comics written by Garth Ennis, is the very personification of violence. That’s my takeaway from Punisher Max: The Complete Collection Vol. 1 [Marvel; $34.99] by Ennis with Darick Robertson, Lewis LaRosa, Tom Palmer and Leandro Fernandez.

This massive 424-page trade paperback reprints Born #1-4 (2003) and Punisher #1-12 (2004) and also includes an introduction by Ennis and dozens of pages of behind-the-scenes bonus material. These are not comic books for delicate sensibility.

Born by Ennis and Robertson with inker Palmer could be considered the “secret origin” of the Punisher before Frank Castle officially took on that identity. It follows Castle through his final tour of duty in Vietnam. Yet even there, he has taken on the attributes of judge, jury and executioner. He is becoming a monster and, though there is an indication, he is the willing host of some never-seen demon, he is as much monster as he is human.

When I say Frank Castle is violence, it’s because that is the one constant in his post-Vietnam world. “In the Beginning” by Ennis and LaRosa with Palmer casts him as a monster in a world of monsters. There are few innocents in this world and, more often than not, he cannot save them. This six-issue arc shows him at war with the mob responsible for the deaths of his wife and children, with those who would use him for his own ends and with a former ally who he will judge harshly. He is violence unrelenting.

Castle’s character is only slightly tempered in “Kitchen Irish” by Ennis and Fernandez, and that only because he allies himself with an old friend. The monsters he faces in this six-issue arc are the heirs of a vicious Irish gangster who hated his family as much as they hated him.

Readers who know of my preference for “white hat heroes” – heroes who hold themselves to a higher ideal and who sacrifice their own happiness to protect others – may be surprised by my praise for the Ennis Punisher. But these are not remotely super-hero stories in intent or execution. They are crime stories and maybe even horror stories. They are apart from the Marvel Universe that is simply not a good fit for Frank Castle. They are their own thing, a brilliant exploration of unending war in a world of monsters.

Frank Castle isn’t a hero, but is a most fascinating protagonist. These stories are intense and honestly told with visuals that suit them exceedingly well. They are not for every comics reader, but I recommend them to adults who enjoy taking a walk on the dark side from time to time.

ISBN 978-1-302-90015-1

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2017 Tony Isabella


I probably sound like a broken record to veteran readers of “Tony’s Tips” and my other writings about comics, but nothing gets me more excited than the amazing variety of material available to today’s comics readers. Today’s “Tips” is a shining example of this as we look at a super-hero series by an award-winning novelist, a comics adventure based on a Disneyland roller coaster and a different take on a classic Japanese manga.

First up is Angel Catbird Volume 1 by Margaret Atwood with artist Johnnie Christmas and colorist Tamra Bonvillain [Dark Horse Books; $14.99]. Atwood is best known for her 1995 novel The Handmaid’s Tale and other works. She’s also a poet, literary critic, essayist, environmental activist and inventor/developer. Christmas created and illustrated several acclaimed comics. They’re a formidable team and this graphic novel is further enhanced by Bonvillain’s colors. Bonvillain has worked with Greg Hildebrandt and also for many/most of the top comics publishers.

Angel Catbird is a super-hero comic book. Atwood clearly revels in the genre and the proof is in this 72-page debut of her character. Though she plays with familiar comics tropes – a scientist whose gene-splicing experiments turn him into a creature he never could have imagined; an evil man-rat corporate villain; a hidden race of cat people – she tells her story with such delight and skill that none of that impaired my enjoyment of this book. When I got to the end of this first hardcover book, I immediately wanted to read the second volume in the series. Fortunately, that volume is scheduled to appear in just a few weeks.

The book’s good guys are heroic and likeable, especially the odd-but-wonderful Count Catula. The bad guy is clever and dangerous. Feel free to hiss at him. The writing, the art, the storytelling, the coloring, are all wonderful. Yeah, this is a super-hero comic book, one fine super-hero comic book.

Angel Catbird is my pick of the week. The comics material is top-notch. The book is further enhanced by lots of bonus material and solid facts and tips about our animal neighbors on this planet. By my standards, it’s suitable for all ages. It’d make a terrific gift for any animal-loving comics reader.

ISBN 978-1-50670-063-2


Big Thunder

Having seen Disney Parks attractions like Pirates of the Caribbean, The Haunted Mansion and Tower of Terror turned into movies – some more successfully than others – it didn’t surprise me that Disney and Marvel Comics could also turn such park attractions into comic books. I wasn’t sold on this idea initially. I kept passing on the comic books and the collections thereof.

Haunted Mansion by Joshua Williamson and Jorge Coelho [Marvel; $24.95] changed my mind. I read the first issue in a free Halloween ComicFest edition and liked it will enough to request a copy of the collection from my local library system. The tale of young Danny, lonely since the death of his globetrotting grandfather, entering the Mansion, interacting with some of the 999 spooks living there and becoming their hero was great fun. After reading this graphic novel, I requested other titles from the Disney Kingdoms and Marvel line. My personal jury is still out on Figment and Seekers of the Weird, but another book scored big with me.

Big Thunder Mountain Railroad by Dennis Hopeless with artists Tigh Walker, Felix Ruiz and others [Marvel; $24.99] is a action-packed supernatural western with a haunted mine, a greedy mine owner, the mine owner’s rebellious daughter, a masked outlaw and a town posed on the brink of derstruction. Abigail Bullion is a feisty and not particularly proper young woman who rides a horse better than any man she knows and who has a keen sense of right and wrong.

The characters are finely tuned components of the story. Even with their allies, they can be prickly. The tale moves both smoothly and swiftly with very good writing and storytelling. The real villain of the piece is heinous, indeed. The threat from beyond our world is formidable. There’s even redemption for one character. We know how much Tony loves a good redemption story.

These aren’t classic comics stories, but they are entertaining and well worth reading. If you have a Disney parks fan in your life, I think they would enjoy them even more than I did.

Haunted Mansion:

ISBN 978-1-3029-0076-2

Big Thunder Mountain Railroad:

ISBN 978-0-7851-9701-0



My initial impression of Unfollow: 140 Characters by Rob Williams, Mike Dowling and R.M. Guera [Vertigo: $14.99] was that is was not unlike Battle Royale, the Japanese manga series by Koushun Takami and Masayuki Taguchi, based on the former’s novel. In the book and the manga, junior high school students are kidnapped to an island and forced to fight each other until only one remains alive. It is one of the most unsettling comics I have ever read.

In Unfollow, a dying social media billionaire is going to leave his entire fortune to 140 people (characters). The catch is that, when one of them dies, the shares of the others are increased. If you’re thinking folks are going to start dying, you’re thinking correctly.

Comparing Unfollow to Battle Royale is fair game, but I would not want you think I’m not intrigued by the first six issues that have been collected in this volume. Unfollow is much more high tech and the stakes are bigger. Along with the usual Vertigo weirdness – one of the characters cut off his own legs and wears a wedding dress to the island gathering of the 140 – there are some sympathetic people who, though flawed, are people I can root for. Additionally, the story isn’t confined to the island. Almost the entire cast leaves after the billionaire dies and one of the 140 is murdered by party or parties unknown.

ABC is said to have Unfollow in development for televison. Bringing us closer to the day when comic books completely control all of the TV networks and cable channels. I will cheer when Sister Wives and Duck Dynasty are pushed off the air by DC Bombshells and Howard the Duck. Comic books are much more real to me than so-called reality shows featuring deplorable blights on mankind.

I enjoyed Unfollow: 140 Characters. I look forward to Unfollow: God Is Watching, which should be out right now. A third volume is due in July. If you’re a fan of Vertigo, I think you’ll like this series.

Unfollow: 140 Characters

ISBN 978-1-4012-6274-7

Unfollow: God Is Watching

ISBN 978-1-4012-6723-0

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2017 Tony Isabella


Graphic novels and history are a natural match. The comics page can bring important events to life with a clarity and conciseness that often eludes the day-to-day coverage in newspapers and on TV. The history is there, framed by a panel, and without the denial of bias found in most newspapers and from the talking heads of television. If bias there be, the graphic novel creators reveal it and so give readers information necessary to their appraisal of these graphic works. For example:

March, the graphic novel trilogy by U.S. Congressman John Lewis and Andrew Aydin with art by Nate Powell, is informed by Lewis’ years in the Civil Rights Movement. He thinks it’s a good thing and I’m of the mind that anyone who doesn’t think the Movement was and is a good thing has a hole in their souls. But that bias isn’t hidden, unlike the bias some politicians and pundits try to disguise with the most convoluted acrobatics in logic or outright denial of what they are on the record as saying.

March has won several well-deserved awards along the way. The most recent, last year, was when March: Book Three won the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature. It was the first graphic novel to ever receive a National Book Award.

On to this week’s reviews…

History that’s still unfolding is the subject of Rolling Blackouts: Dispatches from Turkey, Syria and Iraq by Sarah Glidden [Drawn & Quarterly; $24.95]. In this 304-page hardcover, Glidden uses comics to document her weeks-long trip to the Middle East with journalist friends. In a neat little sidebar, Glidden was able to pay for this trip because of a successful Kickstarter campaign.

The independent journalists, accompanied by Glidden and a childhood friend who served in the Army in the Middle East, seek stories on the effects of the Iraq War on the region and, especially, on the tens of thousands of refugees created by the War. They visit areas that seem peaceful and prosperous. They visit places where people are afraid to talk to the reporters without getting “guidance” from government. They confront their own doubts while trying to decide what journalism is. The former soldier, who does not really regret his service in the area, keeps part of his experience and feelings closed off from the others.

There is no true ending to this graphic novel. The regions visited by the group are still in flux with more refugees arriving each and every day. Some stories are told and others, less “sexy” are not. Cartoonist and journalist alike are left with the question they ask themselves: Do the stories we tell bring new knowledge to those who read them? As one journalist frames it, “Our politicians and their polices are only as smart as we are.”

Rolling Blackouts is riveting. The Iraqi War has been with us for decades and will likely remain with us for decades longer. Glidden brings insight and personal experience to the region and those who live there. It’s one of those works that every serious student of comics should read and which should be available in every public, private and school library.

ISBN 978-1-77046-255-7



Showa 1926-1939: A History of Japan [Drawn & Quarterly; $24.95] is the first book in Shigeru Mizuki’s four-book series on his nation through 1989. Mizuki has been reviewed in this column before; I’ve praises his manga featuring Kitaro, a heroic monster boy who does battle with evil yokai. Indeed, it was my love of the Kitaro tales that led me to this book.

The 560-page softcover is imposing, but covers both Japan’s history and Mizuki’s life smoothly. The narrative can be appreciated even without the additional details provided by the notes in the back of the book. The reader gets a feel for Japan and this era in Japan’s history. As the publisher proclaims:

This volume deals with the period leading up to World War II, a time of high unemployment and other economic hardships caused by the Great Depression. Mizuki’s photo-realist style effortlessly brings to life the Japan of the 1920s and 1930s, depicting bustling city streets and abandoned graveyards with equal ease.

Beautiful art. Flowing storytelling. Historical figures juxtaposed with Mizuki and his family members. Heart, hardship, history, even humor. You’ll find them all in this graphic novel, first published in the United States in 2013.

I read this volume through my local library system, but I’m going to buy my own copy of this and the subsequent volumes. They’re that good and that important.

ISBN 978-1-77046-135-2


Amazing True Story

My pick of the week is a graphic autobiography I first reviewed in 1998. The Amazing True Story of a Teenage Single Mom by Katherine Arnoldi [Graymalkin Media; $12.99] has been reissued in paperback with the addition of more reproductive rights information.

Arnoldi had a dream: to go to college. Fueling that dream was the author’s courage, strength and stamina and, above all else, a deep and abiding love for her child and her determination to make their life better. Her story is at points horrifying and soul-crushing. But, ultimately, it is wondrously triumphant. It was included in my award-deserving book 1000 Comic Books You Must Read:

“Arnoldi’s courageous real-life story of her life as a poor teenage mom trying to build a future for herself and her daughter. I picked this as the best graphic novel of the year and have recommended it to friends ever since.”

The book was nominated for an Will Eisner Award and was listed as one of the top ten books of the year by Entertainment Weekly. My admiration for Arnoldi has grown. In this new edition of her book, she writes:

“I made this book to copy myself and take to GED (high school equivalency) programs. My purpose was to help single moms feel worthy to pursue their rights to an equal access to education and provide them with the information to do so, since young moms often miss out on high school guidance counseling.”

Also from the book:

“Katherine Arnoldi, PhD, was a Fulbright Fellow (2208-2009) and has been awarded two New York Foundation of the Arts awards (Fiction and Drawing), a Newhouse Award, The Henfield Transatlantic Fiction Award and the Dejur Award. A Pro-Choice advocate for equal rights to education for single moms, she lives in New York City and teaches at City University of New York.”

When she sent me the book, Arnoldi thanked me for my earlier review and for all I do for comics. I want to thank her for giving me yet another confirmation of the power of both the comics art form and the human spirit.

ISBN 978-1-63168-034-2

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2017 Tony Isabella


While I remain pretty much clueless as to what’s going on with DC Universe Rebirth and what caused these changes to said universe, I am certain that I’m enjoying the heck out of these kind of sort of reboots and/or revamps of the New 52 status quos. Without apology, I embrace both my ignorance and my bliss.

Action Comics is a good “case in point” of my bliss. I usually read ongoing titles in batches. The twice-monthly publishing frequency of Action Comics means I have a bigger piece of the pie whenever I read the title. As for what’s inside these comic books, there is so much cool stuff that I don’t mind not knowing the cause of it all. Not even if it involves Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ classic and rightly legendary Watchmen. I’ll circle on back to that discussion in a bit.

Action Comics #963-968 [$2.99 each] has a Superman from some other plane of existence who is married to the Lois Lane from his reality and who, with her, is raising a young super-powered son. After the death of this world’s previous Superman, Lex Luthor put on a super-suit and declared himself Superman. There’s a Superwoman or two in the mix, as well as a Clark Kent who isn’t Superman and who doesn’t seem to be anything other than a Earth-born human being. Throw in a mysterious corporation other than Lexcorp and some beings trying to change the future by killing Hitler, excuse me, killing Luthor before he becomes the Darkseid of our world, and I’m really hooked. What does this all mean? Where is this all going? When can I read the next issue?

Dan Jurgens, who was one of the Superman creators during the epic “Death of Superman/Funeral for a Friend/New Supermen” era for the Man of Steel, is the writer. Jurgens understands the family dynamic of this Superman, Lois, and Jon. Their scenes seem very real to me. He does an equally good job with the mistrust between Superman and Luthor, and the mystery of the human Clark Kent.

Artists for the issues include Patrick Zircher (#963-964), Stephen Segovia with inker Art Thibert (#965-966), and Tyler Kirkham (#976-977). Zircher’s work is my favorite of this artistic gathering, but all of the issues look great with the characters looking the same no matter who’s drawing them. I prefer ongoing characters to be “on model” in ongoing comic books.

Where is DC Universe Rebirth taking us? I’m hopeful it’s taking us to a consistent, fun and interesting universe. If that destination involves Watchmen, I’m fine with that. Like movies made from books, Moore and Gibbons’ original work will always be there for us. It’s not diminished by further use of the characters, especially if that use is respectful. My personal recent experience with DC Comics is that the company is more respectful of older creators than it has been in, literally, decades. I’m choosing to trust DC Comics this time around.



If you want to read the 1990s ten-issue Foolkiller series by Steve Gerber with artist Joe Brozowski (as J.J. Birch), you’ll have to track down the original comic books. Because, in a shocking lapse, Marvel Comics has never collected this series.

Ross G. Everbest, the first Foolkiller – there have been four – was a religious fanatic. Greg Salinger, the next one, based his kills on people who he considered guilty of materialism and mediocrity, or of lacking “a poetic nature.” In the 1990s series, Kurt Gerhardt goes after violent criminals with the encouragement and inspiration of the incarcerated Salinger and the assistance of some underground supporters of Salinger. As shown in the 1990s series, Gerhardt’s definition of what constitutes a violent criminal expands to insane proportions. But it’s a fascinating crime/horror story with a often sympathetic killer. I’d rate it among the best comics of the 1990s.

I mention Foolkiller for two reasons. The first is that it really should be collected. The second is that, somewhat updated, it would make a terrific movie. Not a big-budget Marvel movie of the sort we have become accustomed to, but a smaller “B” movie that would fit nicely into the “slasher movie” genre. Even with all the use both Marvel and DC are getting out of their vast libraries of heroes and villains, some characters are better suited to the smaller films.

Foolkiller has all the elements necessary for a horror movie. You have a killer who seems unstoppable. You have a great many victims and the potential to kill them in interesting ways. As a direct-to-video movie with a modest (but not absurd) budget, I think it would be worth watching and turn a decent profit for Marvel.


Getting back to comic books, there was a fourth Foolkiller who was in two “Marvel MAX” mini-series. I don’t know anything about him, but I’ve ordered complete sets of the two mini-series and may well write about them in the future. In the meantime, Salinger is back in a new series that made its debut in November.

Foolkiller #1-2 [$3.99} finds Salinger working for S.H.I.E.L.D. as a psychotherapist whose patients are murderous vigilantes. His job is to determine if the killers could be of use to the organization. I sigh in sadness as I recall when S.H.I.E.L.D. was made up of good guys. Thankfully, that’s kind of sort of the case in the current TV series. Bless you, Phil Coulson.

Salinger has a job and a girlfriend. But the old urges remain and, at one point, he kills a patient he believes can not be re-purposed for S.H.I.E.L.D. work. His immediate superior thinks about this and decides Greg’s job description should be expanded to include such removals. Yes, I am still sighing.

Thus far, I’m not a fan of this new series. Writer Max Bemis isn’t doing a bad job, but he’s not engaging me anywhere near the way I was engaged by Gerber’s series. The art and storytelling by Dalibor Talajic with inker Jose Marzan Jr. and colorist Miroslav Mrva has its moments, but isn’t knocking my socks off. I’ll still with the series for a few more issues, but it hasn’t yet won me over. Your mileage may vary, so consider my comments neither a recommendation or a warning to avoid the title.

I’ll be back next week with more reviews. In the meantime, for the latest Isabella writings and other hopefully cool stuff, check out “Tony Isabella’s Bloggy Thing” [], follow me on Facebook [], or follow me on Twitter [@thetonyisabella].

© 2017 Tony Isabella


Welcome to 2017, which will certainly be the most challenging year of my lifetime and for many, if not most of us. We who make comics and would stand against bigotry, dishonesty, sexism, xenophobia, zealotry and the lawlessness of the rich and the powerful in their unending pursuit of even greater wealth and power, we can and must do what artists have always done. We can use our art to challenge the rich and powerful, and to give comfort and support to those who are victimized by them. In the words of the sainted Harvey Pekar, “You can do anything with comics.”

Comics creators have the great power to reveal the human condition at its best and at its worst, and, in doing so be a force of change for the better. In this scary new year, more than ever, “with great power, there must also come great responsibility!”

I think I read that in a comic book.

On to this week’s reviews…

3 Devils by Bo Hampton with colorist Jeremy Mohler [IDW; $19.99] is a “supernatural western.” It reprints the first four issues of what I hope is an ongoing series. Its title heroes sound like the start of a joke: “a young Romani woman, a zombie and a werewolf walk into a bar…”

Tara, the Romani woman, is a child when she witnesses her father, brother and mother slaughtered by a vampire and his human henchmen. Marcus is a zombie with free will who is perhaps immortal. Though he says he has no soul, something about Tara speaks to something within him. Oliver is a sideshow freak who happens to be an actual werewolf. He joins the now-grown-into-young-womanhood Tara on her quest to find the vampire and avenge her family.

Sidebar. Set in the Old West as this story is, Tara is called and refers to herself as a “gypsy.” I take no exception with that; it’s historically accurate. However, writing these words today, I will use the word “Romani” throughout this and future reviews.

Hampton is a one-time collaborator of mine and a friend. He drew a Moon Knight story of mine back in 1983 or thereabouts. I’ve been a fan of his work – writing and drawing – ever since. This collection of 3 Devils #1-4 is solid on all fronts. A cracking good story and art that adapts to the needs of the action, the human drama and the supernatural spookiness. Mohler’s color work is every bit as good. If you like a good dose of scary with your western action, this is the trade paperback for you. I loved it and recommend it to all of you. Check it out.

ISBN 978-1631406980



Gail Simone’s Clean Room is unnerving and a half. I read an issue, think I’ve got it figured out, then the next issue hits me with a scary surprise I didn’t see coming. I read the first six issues as they came out and then reread them in Clean Room Vol. 1: Immaculate Conception [$14.99]. I think the series works best when read in big chunks. But I digress.

In this opening volume by Simone and artist Jon Davis-Hunt, we’re introduced to the two strong women. Astrid Mueller is the founder of the Honest World Foundation, which feels more than a little like a cult and will make you shiver. Chloe Pierce is a reporter whose fiancé was a devoted Mueller follower until he blew his brains out. Sudden and shocking death turns out to be something fairly common around the Foundation. What these two women have in common is that they see things most other people can’t see. That awful knowledge is what drives their conflict and uneasy alliance.

Simone has created lots of interesting supporting characters with some of them being so likeable the reader worries about what will happen to them. Davis-Hunt, who also colors Clean Room with Quinton Winter, draws distinctive characters. His storytelling is spot on, as is ability to portray both the most human and the most horrific moments.

Clean Room is one of the best new comics of the decade. The second volume of the collected series, reprinting issues #7-12, should be available at fine comic-book shops and bookstores everywhere. You should embrace this series, shivers and all.

Clean Room Vol. 1: Immaculate Conception

ISBN 978-1-4012-6275-4

Clean Room Vol. 2: Exile

ISBN 978-1-4012-6740-7



Harrow County Volume 1: Countless Haints by Cullen Bunn and Tyler Cook [Dark Horse; $14.99] is described as a “southern gothic fairy tale” in its back-cover blurb. Collecting the first four issues of the ongoing comic-book series, this first volume introduces us to young Emmy, who is more than she initially appears to be, and takes us to the back-woods Harrow County. The location is a key character in the story, every bit as disturbing as any of the creatures Emmy and the reader will meet. It’s a place where things have just not been right for a long time.

Because so much of the fun of reading this book comes from making discoveries alongside Emmy, I’m going to refrain from telling you anything else about the story. I will say Bunn’s writing is smooth, filled with emotion and suspense. Crook’s art suits both the human drama and…the other stuff.

I was introduced to Harrow County via a free Halloween ComicFest comic book, which, of course, the point of free special event comic books. There are three more Harrow County collections at this time and I plan to read all of them.

Harrow County Volume 1: Countless Haints

ISBN 978-1-61655-780-5

Harrow County Volume 2: Twice Told

ISBN 978-1-61655-900-7

Harrow County Volume 3: Snake Doctor

ISBN 978-1-50670-071-7

Harrow County Volume 4: Family Tree (due in February)

ISBN 978-1-50670-141-7

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2016 Tony Isabella


Walt Disney Presents Silly Symphonies: The Sunday Newspaper Comics Volume One 1932 to 1935 [IDW; $49.99] was about as far away from an impulse buy for me as it could have been. The “star” of this first volume is Bucky Bug, a character whose appearances in comic books always left me cold. You see, the Bucky Bug stories were always in rhyme with poetry so bad it was almost a crime.

What changed my mind? The cover appealed to me. The visual designs of Bucky and girlfriend June Bug are welcoming. Dean Mullaney, the editor and co-designer of The Library of American Comics, creates beautiful books that are handsomely made and packed with comics and informative essays.

Written by Earl Duvall, Ted Osborne and Merrill DeMaris, the Bucky Bug comic strips are exciting adventures, a coming-of-age tale of a plucky young bug discovering and making his way in a vast world. Bucky goes a’wandering, starts a business, meets a girl, leads an army to victory, reconnects with his parents and takes the reader to a satisfying conclusion of his story. The rhyming in these comic strips is much better than that in the comic books. I found myself reading the strip out loud, albeit only when no one was around but my cat Simba. She seemed to enjoy this, but, you know, cats. Who can tell for sure?

Drawn by the deservedly legendary Al Taliaferro, the comic strips were loosely based on the Silly Symphonies cartoons. Following the Bucky Bug tales, we get six more stories, including the comic-strip debut of Donald Duck. From the impulsive youngster of “Birds of a Feather” to the shark-fighting hero of “Penguin Isle” and the very trippy “Cookieland,” these are fun comics. I love this volume and, when I buy the second volume, it won’t be an impulse buy. I know a treasure when I see it.

Silly Symphonies Volume One is my pick of the week.

ISBN 978-1631405587



Shigeru Mizuki’s Kitaro has become one of my favorite characters in comics, manga or otherwise. The one-eyed lad – yes, it looks like he has two eyes, but the bulging eye is actually the spirit of his father – is the last member of the Ghost Tribe of yokai or spirit-monsters. He has inherited all the powers of the Tribe, using them to assist humans and others who have been attacked or victimized by evil yokai.

The Birth of Kitaro [Drawn and Quarterly; $12.95] recounts the tale of Kitaro’s birth and presents six other stories of the courageous boy’s battles with evil yokai. Featured in several stories is his sometimes friend and sometimes foe Nezumi Otoko, whose schemes to attain worldly wealth always backfire on him.

Kitaro is a popular figure in Japanese folklore whose origins seem to predate Mizuki’s manga. But the Mizuki version of the character, which he wrote and drew for fifty years, is easily the most beloved of them all. The Mizuki adventures are lighthearted, but they have an excitement and sense of wonder to them that would appeal to fans of the traditional super-hero comics of the 1960s if they gave them a chance. Kitaro is one of a very small handful of manga characters I’d like to write.

In addition to the manga stories, The Birth of Kitaro also includes an informative piece on the history of Kitaro by Zack Davisson, a “Yokei Files” piece by Davisson and eight pages of puzzles to test the reader’s yokei knowledge.

Amazon lists the age range for The Birth of Kitaro as 12-15, but I think it can be enjoyed by younger and older readers as well. If I had reviewed it before Christmas, I would have recommended it as a cool stocking stuffer, but the book would be a swell gift for any occasion. Check it out.

ISBN 978-1-77046-228-1



I became a Marvel kid in the 1960s and mostly stayed that way for the next few decades, even when I was writing for DC and some other publishers. These days, the two companies often change places in my estimation. Right now, courtesy of DC’s “Rebirth” whatever it is – “reboot” doesn’t seem to cover it – I’m enjoying more DCU titles. But I still enjoy a great many Marvel titles as well.

If Marvel has fallen to second place in my ranking of the Big Two, it’s because the company’s “big event” storylines are nihilistic and damaging to characters I loved. Captain America is turned into a virtual Nazi. Other characters are slaughtered for shock value. Relationships are broken. Unconquerable Wakanda gets conquered on three separate occasions. I find reading these stories unpleasant, even when they contain the germ of a good concept.

Case in point: the Inhumans/X-Men War. Even though it was clearly driven by a executive hissy-fit over cinema rights, the notion of Marvel’s two races of super-powered beings at odds with one another is intriguing.

I sat down to read the recent Death of X #1-4 mini-series, wherein the agendas of the Inhumans and the mutants clash to deadly effect. The Inhumans hold the Terrigen Clouds, the gaseous substance that triggers change in latent Inhumans, sacred. Those same clouds have been proven deadly to mutants.

Written by Jeff Lemire and Charles Soule with pencil art by Aaron Kuder and Javier Garron, Death of X has the Inhumans determined to defend the Terrigen Clouds while trying to assist some of the X-Men in finding a cure for its deadly effect on mutants. Other mutants, notable a faction led by Cyclops and Emma Frost, are determined to destroy the clouds forever.

The Cyclops of the current Marvel Universe is a stranger to me. I haven’t enjoyed the paths he has taken. But he’s not wrong in his desire to protect his fellow mutants by destroying the Clouds. Nor are Medusa and the Inhumans wrong in wanting to preserve the only means of adding to their numbers. That nuanced conflict made this series work for me. Enough so that I’ll be checking out subsequent comics in this ongoing event.

The four issues of Death of X should be available from your local comics shop or online. A trade paperback collection [$17.99] will be published in March. Worth checking out.

ISBN 978-1302903374


This is the last “Tony’s Tips” of 2016. I want to wish my readers a happy new year, even though I realize that year is terrifying for readers who, by virtue of their gender, race, religion, sexuality, nationality and progressive beliefs were demonized and threatened by the President-Elect and his followers. The only consolation that I can offer these readers is that many of us, perhaps the majority of us, stand with you. We’ll be there for you for the simple reason that we are all stronger together.

Always forward…to 2017 and beyond.

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2016 Tony Isabella


Weighing in at 6.3 pounds and 1152 pages, Marvel’s Deadly Hands of Kung Fu Omnibus Vol. 1 [$125] reprints issues #1-18 of the 1970s black-and-white magazine, The Deadly Hands of Kung Fu Special #1, and the all-article The Deadliest Heroes of Kung Fu #1. It also has three new introductions by Gerry Conway, Doug Moench and my own bad self. Conway created the Sons of the Tiger feature, Moench wrote more Shang-Chi, Master of Kung Fu stories than any other writer and I edited several issues of the title.

Because they are such beautiful and impressive volumes, I tend to get a little teary when I write about these omnibus books. That’s partly because holding them is like a religious experience for this comics guy who never dreamed such wonders could exist back when I was working on magazines like Deadly Hands of Kung Fu…and partly because I usually manage to drop them on my foot while I’m trying to read them. In the right (or wrong) hands, these omnibus volumes are deadly weapons.

My introduction focuses on the text articles we ran in Deadly Hands because our budget only allowed for maybe half of our overall page count to be comics stories. While finances might have been the most pressing reason for the use of these pieces, all of us who worked on them were enamored at producing something that was an honest-to-gosh magazine and not just a big comic book. We strived to come up with creative topics and presentations. Looking back on them today, I’m impressed. These issues look better than their low budgets and too tight deadlines should have allowed.

I didn’t get to write about the comics stories, but readers fondly remember them with good cause. We saw early work of great creators like Moench, Bill Mantlo, Steve Englehart, Jim Starlin, Alan Weiss, Chris Claremont, George Perez, Mike Vosburg, Rudy Nebres, Keith Pollard, Keith Giffen and others, appearing alongside veterans like Denny O’Neil, Dick Giordano, Don Perlin and Judomaster co-creator Frank McLaughlin. All behind tremendous covers by Neal Adams, Bob Larkin, Earl Norem, Luis Dominguez, Nick Cardy and Harold Shull. I was thrilled to have been able to work with so many of these fine talents and, even allowing for my occasionally inept editing, proud of what we all did on these magazines.

While Marvel’s Deadly Hands of Kung Fu Omnibus Vol. 1 doesn’t come cheap, you’ll be amply rewarded for your purchase with hours, nay, days and weeks of entertaining reading. I recommend it to fans of the martial arts genre, to us aging children of the 1970s, and to younger readers who will be astonished to discover these legendary comics magazines of the past.

ISBN 978-1-302-90133-2



As cool as the Deadly Hands of Kung Fu book is, this week, there is only one possible choice for my pick of the week. It’s cartoonist Tom Hart’s heartbreaking Rosalie Lightning: A Graphic Memoir [St. Martin’s Press; $19.99]. It’s the real-life drama of the death of Hart’s young daughter, and his and his wife’s journey to find a way of coping with that unimaginable loss. It has been justly praised by comics creators and critics for its honesty, beauty and bravery. As a parent myself, my heart sunk deep into my gut as I read this amazing work and didn’t feel right for many days after I finished it. Great comics have the power to touch the soul. This is one of the greatest of this or any other year.

Young as she is, Rosalie emerges as the most complete character of this memoir. We get to know her well and feel, if only from afar, the agony of her loss. Hart’s world doesn’t seem complete without her. His and his wife’s sometimes desperate search for something to make their lives whole again is simultaneously heroic and tragic. I actually hugged this book more than once.

During the events of this memoir, the Harts moved from New York and put their apartment up for sale. The housing market was down. One realtor bailed on them. The co-op board refused to let them sell at a price it considered too low. They were very nearly broke. So does the uncaring world refuse to give suffering people a respite from their sorrow. Instead, it piles on. I know the sheer frustration of such things and the manifest unfairness of having to deal with them when your heart has been shattered.

I can’t be objective about Rosalie Lightning. It hits me in so many places where it hurts. But it also allows for light or, at least, the possibility of light. This book is great comics and it is also great literature. It needs to be in the collection of every serious devotee of our comics art form.

ISBN 978-1-250-04994-0



Black Magick Volume 1: Awakening by Greg Rucka and Nicola Scott [Image; $9.99] collects the first five issues of the ongoing series about Rowan Black, a police detective who is also a witch. Veteran readers of my writings will recall I love cop stories, especially when they are combined with elements of science fiction, super-heroes or the supernatural. I was hoping to enjoy this new series and Rucka and Scott didn’t disappoint me.

That the writing and art were first-rate didn’t surprise me. That the story threw some unexpected chills and developments was to be expected from these talented creators. Were I so inclined, I could gush about the intriguing characters and everything else wonderful about this trade paperback. I enjoyed this book and would recommend it to all of you. But…

What I really want to gush over is the back cover copy on the trade paperback. It’s one of the best sales pitches I’ve read in a very long time. Here it is…


Rowan Black knows:
the scent of a body burned at the stake the power of a murderer’s severed left hand the danger of blood spilled on stone beneath the new moon.

Rowan Black is a witch.

Rowan Black knows:
that a badge is worth exactly as much as the person carrying it that motive is overrated that you always watch your partner’s back.

Rowan Black is a cop.

She knows something else.

She knows magic is real.

The problem is, somebody else knows it, too.

Damn! That’s an irresistible come-on. I can’t wait for the second volume.

Here’s wishing my readers here and elsewhere, comics retailers all across this great world of ours, and my fellow comics professionals the happiest of holidays and the merriest of Christmases. We face some enormous challengers in 2017, but our art and our friends can get us through them and help us work to make a better world. We’ll always be stronger together.

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2016 Tony Isabella


Imagine you’re a comic book-reading child of the 1960s and getting a little bored and/or uneasy about that. There’s a sameness to so many of the comics you’re reading. Some adults in your life express concern that you’re still reading those things. Being a smart kid, probably because you’ve read so many comic books, you have already figured out that your comic-book collection is not an attraction to those cute girls in your class.

Imagine you discover the revolutionary comic books of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, followed shortly thereafter by things like Jim Warren’s Creepy. Imagine those comic books set a creative fire under publishers like DC and, suddenly, their comic books are getting interesting again. The boredom and the doubts disappear in a blast of Kirby Krackle.

Imagine, as you enter the 1970s and your kind of sort of adulthood, that comics get even more interesting. That you start communicating with other comics fans and even comics professionals. That a dream of working in comics starts becoming less a dream and more a goal.

Imagine you do start working in the comics industry at a time when your beloved super-heroes are being joined by comic books starring martial artists, monsters and even a sarcastic duck. Imagine a time when it appears there are no limits to what can and does appear in comic books. Super-heroes may dominate from time to time, but they will never again be the whole show.

Imagine your reading of comic books becomes more work-oriented and that you no longer have time to read every comic that crosses your path. You skip issues. You only glance at some titles. You figure you’ll get the time to read them when you retire.

Imagine you work in the comics industry for over four decades. You work in all areas of the industry. You get married and raise a nice family. You realize you’re never going to retire because, even if you did retire, you love what you do too much to seriously consider not doing it.

Imagine you suddenly realize you’re an adult. Trust me, that can be a horrifying experience. But, wait, there’s an upside to getting to be that old. It’s called your second childhood.

Imagine you’ve had a couple of pretty good years. Imagine some of the comics you loved from the past or always wished you had time to read are now available in handsome hardcover omnibus editions that could crush your skull if they ever fell off a bookshelf.

Imagine you found a seller of these wondrous volumes offering them at really terrific discounts. Imagine you convince yourself you’ve been a good boy and can buy a bunch of them without feeling guilty about it. Imagine you have a forklift to carry them to your office.

You have just imagined my life. Indeed, if I had to describe it and taking into account the season, I would go so far as to say it’s a wonderful life. I know you saw what I did there.

Over the past months, I’ve bought at least seven omnibus editions and a couple of Marvel’s epic collection softcovers. Most of them were purchased from InStockTrades [] because they offer great prices, deliver outstanding service, and because they are the official sponsors of “Tony’s Tips” at Tales of Wonder. When I buy stuff from InStock, I help pay myself. When you buy from InStock, you get those same great deals and service, and you help to pay me. I’m pretty sure that it also makes both Jesus and Santa smile, but I would never be so presumptuous as to state that as a fact. Though it probably is.

The reason I said “at least” is because I only counted the volumes I could see as I looked around my office. Think Tokyo after a visit from Godzilla. I once called Marvel’s Damage Control to clean up my office and they refused the job because a) they’re only human and b) they don’t actually exist. Except – This is between you and me, okay? – they really do.

In alphabetical order, these are the books I can see as I cast my eyes around the Hoary Home Office of Isabella:

Black Panther Epic Collection: Panther’s Rage [$34.99]

ISBN 978-1-302-90190-5

Doctor Strange Omnibus Vol. 1 [$75]

ISBN 978-0-7851-9924-3

Gotham Central Omnibus [$99.99]

ISBN 978-1-4012-6192-4

Howard The Duck Omnibus [$99.99]

ISBN 978-0-7851-3023-9

Iron Fist Epic Collection: The Fury of Iron Fist [$39.99]

ISBN 978-0-7851-9164-3

Shang-Chi: Master of Kung-Fu Omnibus Vol. 1 [$125]

ISBN 978-1-302-90129-5

Star Wars: The Complete Marvel Years Omnibus Vol. 3 [$125]

ISBN 978-0-7851-9346-3

The Fantastic Four Omnibus Volume 1 [$99.99]

ISBN 978-0-7851-8566-6

Werewolf by Night Omnibus [$125]

ISBN 978-0-7851-9908-3

I had different reasons for buying all of these. In the case of Don McGregor’s Black Panther stories, I want to read them once again to explore the signature work of one of the most individual writers in comics history. This book will go on my night stand to be read an issue a day. Not gonna rush through those comics.

I would have bought the Doctor Strange Omnibus eventually because I want to get the first volumes of all the Marvel series I grew up with in the 1960s. I got it sooner rather than later because that new Doctor Strange movie has restored my interest in the character. Throughout 2017, I’ll read as many other Doctor Strange collections as I can get my hands on.

Gotham Central Omnibus was an impulse buy. I’ve read all the issues and enjoyed them up to the point when one of the characters turned into the Spectre. But the entire run is worth a second reading and that will likely follow the Black Panther book.

Howard the Duck? Can you ever get enough Steve Gerber comic books? I don’t think so. As for the stories not written by my dear friend Steve, I either ignored or merely skimmed them when they first came out. This time around, I’ll read them.

I bought the Iron Fist book for two reasons. It reprints the three issues I did with artist Arvell Jones, one of which introduced the magnificent Misty Knight. But I’ve often said Chris Claremont did the heavy lifting on the character and I look forward to re-reading his stories as well.

I enjoyed Shang-Chi in the 1970s, but I confess I didn’t read every issue of his book after I stepped down from being the editor of the black-and-white magazine The Deadly Hands of Kung Fu. Doug Moench did outstanding work in the title and now I have the time to enjoy them leisurely.


I bought the third volume of Star Wars: The Complete Marvel Years Omnibus because, having read and enjoyed the first two volumes with their fine stories by Roy Thomas, Archie Goodwin, David Micheline and Jo Duffy, I wanted to read the rest of the title’s run. I had borrowed those first two from my library, but, for some reason, it never got the third one. When I saw it at a good price, I went for it. The Force is strong within those comics.

The Fantastic Four Omnibus, like the Doctor Strange Omnibus, is a must-have book for me. The Marvel comic books of the 1960s are why I’ve worked in comics industry for over four decades. I’m looking forward to rediscovering those classics.


Werewolf by Night was one of those titles I mostly skimmed, despite all the great writers who contributed to the run: Roy Thomas, Gerry Conway, Len Wein, Marv Wolfman, Mike Friedrich and Doug Moench. It will be fun to read these stories from the start and take my time with them.

These collections aren’t cheap, but they are definitely worthwhile. If your budget allows, any of them would make for an eye-opening gift for that comics fan you love.

As for me, I plan on buying them as long as I can. It won’t become a problem until the pile is taller than I am. I think I still have about four feet to go.

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2016 Tony Isabella


I am the comics guy in my home city of Medina, Ohio. I’ve been the comics guy in a great many other places and situations as well. I suspect many of you have been the comics guy or gal in your city, neighborhood, office, school, what have you. I’m the comics guy in Medina because I have worked in comics for over four decades, but also because the local newspaper has written about me and my comics garage sales on several occasions.

When you’re the comics guy, people expect that you have seen every comics-related movie and that you saw them on the day they opened. They want to know what you thought of them before they take out the second mortgage that will allow them to go to the theater and watch the movie for themselves. I have Medina friends and neighbors who still feel betrayed because I never saw either Man of Steel (2013) or Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016). I may or may not see them in the near future, but that’s another discussion.

I saw Doctor Strange (2016) nine days after it opened. I thought it was pretty darn sweet on several levels and wrote about it briefly in my “Tony Isabella’s Bloggy Thing.” In the interest of conserving my critical resources, here’s what I wrote there:

“[Though] part of the ongoing Marvel Cinematic Universe, it gave a self-contained story of a hero’s journey from self-centered egotist to selfless hero. Even when he’s playing a jerk, it’s easy to like actor Benedict Cumberbatch, but, by the end of this movie, it’s impossible not to fall in love with him. Again.

“Rachel McAdams deserves credit for her understated but wonderful performance as Christine Palmer. She holds her own with such movie heavyweights as Tilda Swinton (The Ancient One) and Chiwetel Ejiofor (Mordo).

“The special effects are spectacular and fill so much of the screen and running time that I was exhausted when I walked out of the theatre. The filmmakers did a great job bringing Strange co-creator Steve Ditko’s imaginative drawings to cinematic life. But, without the flawed and yet glorious humanity that comes from co-creator Stan Lee’s contributions to the original comic, the movie would’ve been little more than a big light show. An awesome light show, to be sure, but just a light show. As always, it’s the human elements that make for a great super-hero comic book, movie or TV show.”

Doctor Strange isn’t available for purchase as a holiday gift, but the movie is still running in theaters. Take a “Marvel Magic” break from all the hustle and bustle of the season by taking someone you love to the film. Oh, yeah, and sit through all the end credits to see the extra scenes.



If you’re an old-timer like me and feeling nostalgic for the early years of the Master of the Mystic Arts, or if you’ve come to Doctor Strange via the movie and want to learn more about him, there’s no better starting place than Doctor Strange Omnibus Vol. 1 [Marvel; $75]. This glorious 456-page hardcover book collects the original Doctor Strange stories by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko. Those classic adventures appeared in Strange Tales #110-111, Strange Tales #114-146, and The Amazing Spider-Man Annual #2.

As Dean Mullaney writes in his introduction, Doc Strange was unlike the other Marvel super-heroes. His stories started out as five-page episodes not unlike the anthology supernatural chillers that ran in titles like Strange Tales and Tales to Astonish before the coming of the super-heroes. Doc’s origin was a tight eight pages and, for most of his Strange Tales run, his adventures got ten pages and no more. But even the shorter stories introduced readers to amazing characters like the Ancient One, Baron Mordo, Nightmare, and, most especially the dreaded Dormammu. Lee gave a literary weight to the stories while Ditko used his art to created the weirdest worlds of all. With the coming of Dormammu, almost god-like in his power and wrath, Doctor Strange moved beyond his fellow Marvel super-heroes. His concerns were not with saving a city or a nation or even Earth itself. He had become the champion of everything, both the seen and the unseen.

True confession. Once I started being able to buy Strange Tales on a regular basis – it was harder to find every issue of my favorite comic books in the 1960s – I read the Doctor Strange stories before I read the cover-featured Human Torch stories.

In addition to all that Lee/Ditko excitement, this omnibus volume is packed with special features. Every cover, even if Doc Strange wasn’t prominent on them. Every letters page. Every reprint cover. A gallery of Doctor Strange pin-ups by some of the most astonishing artists to ever draw the Sorcerer Supreme. It doesn’t take a master magician to figure out Doctor Strange Omnibus Vol. 1 is this week’s pick of the week.

Doctor Strange Omnibus Vol. 1 would also make a great gift for any old and new fan of the character. Don’t let the price scare you on account of InStock Trades, which sponsors this very column, always offers great prices on books like this. May the Vishanti watch over you and your loved ones at this happiest and most mystical time of the year.

ISBN 978-0-7851-9924-3



In keeping with the “magic” theme of this week’s column, I want to share a few quick thoughts about Marvel’s Scarlet Witch #9 [$3.99]. As you can tell by the Civil War II logo David Aja has brilliantly tied into his cover art, this is a tie-in to the crossover event. That the crossover event bores the snot out of me is irrelevant to this mini-review because writer James Robinson actually uses this mandatory involvement to good effect.

Robinson is at his best here. He delivers a satisfying done-in-one story that ties in with what’s been going on in the series from the start, with the “magic crisis” shown in Doctor Strange and several other Marvel titles and with this new civil war between the Marvel heroes. Yet none of that overshadows the real story of this issue: a turning point in the relationship of siblings Wanda Maximoff and speedster brother Pietro aka Quicksilver.

Wanda’s position on the “civil war” between Captain Marvel and Tony Stark is well thought out, even though it’s a position I disagree with. Her position puts her into conflict with Pietro, which allows Robinson to examine the life-long conflicts between the siblings. Portrayed by artist Joelle Jones and colorist Rachelle Rosenberg, that simmering pot explodes in emotionally-charged images that are nothing short of stunning.

Scarlet Witch #9 is a magnificent issue. It’s a fine example of how even “corporate” comic books can rank with the best of our medium. It should be recognized and praised as such.

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2016 Tony Isabella